“Joy” exclaims Betsy. “I was surprised by the amount of joy foster parenting and adoption brought into our family. I love watching the children grow, developing their sense of humor and seeing the people they are becoming.” Her husband Leo adds, “I see our family as big! We would like more foster kids with the hope of adopting. We understand the intent of foster care is to place the child back with their family, but we are open to adoption when that is not possible.”
Leo and Betsy felt called to parenthood from the onset of their marriage. When their dream of biological children was met with infertility, they pursued other avenues to make their vision of a large family happen. “There are multiple ways you can adopt, like international, domestic, and infant. Since we wanted a large family, we were drawn to foster parenting because sometimes you can adopt siblings. We are open to that. We want to be as generous as possible. It is so sad to see siblings separated, and so we thought if we could take more than one at a time, we would have a better chance of seeing our family grow,’ shares Betsy.
That chance paid off at 11 a.m. in June 2013 when Leo received a call. Two siblings, ages 2 and almost 4, were in need of foster care. Betsy and Leo agreed, and by 5 p.m. that day, they became an instant family of four. Betsy says, “I left work early and ran to Meijer to buy clothes, diapers and food. I tried to think of what was absolutely necessary to bring them into our home. I had butterflies. Most people don’t get asked, ‘Do you want this child?’ For us, we got a call and had to use our best discernment.” Leo chimes in, “We had been waiting awhile when the call came. It felt right to say yes.”
Waiting is an inevitable part of the process of foster parenting. Interested individuals must go through a lengthy application process, including background checks, multiple references, physical exams and financial approval. Licensing, which varies by state, can take anywhere from six months to one year, and must be renewed every year. Once a family is approved and a child is placed, there are further agency requirements, including monthly caseworker visits and transporting the child to regularly scheduled visits with the birth family. Foster parents supply transportation to all appointments and meet educational, emotional and physical needs. The regimen for becoming and maintaining a foster care home is stricter than the requirements for adoption.
Guidelines may be strict, but agency support is plentiful, according to Betsy: “Our foster care system, St. Vincent Catholic Charities [STVCC], has been very supportive and provides many resources. Children come into foster care because of abuse or neglect, and it’s important to understand the types of behavior the children might show as they process what is happening. You learn a lot about how children experience grief and trauma. [STVCC] provides therapy and other support when needed.”
Softly Betsy continues, “Many people are scared to bring a foster child into their home. There are big adjustments for everyone. But think how scared that child is. They’re going into a different home. They might have food they have never eaten. They’re put on a different schedule, and usually with no one they know. They are all alone. And if placement brings adoption, that always involves loss. It’s joyful to make a family through adoption, but that child loses their biological family in the process.”
Their own compassion has expanded as a result of opening their home to foster parenting. “As much as our world has grown, this has shown me how people really live in their own bubble and are unaware of what’s going on around them,” states Leo. “When you work in the foster care system, you see people who have serious issues in their life. It makes me appreciate the way I was raised and the opportunities I had. I developed a greater sympathy for others.” Betsy’s empathetic stance is clear: “People do the best they can. If you’re really struggling to take care of yourself, you simply don’t have the resources to care for a child as well.”
Betsy and Leo encourage people to pray about foster care, and Leo says, “While it’s not for everyone, it might be right for you. Find an agency and talk to them. Spend time going to their classes and presentations so you can learn what is involved. Learn and discern. If you have extra space in your home, it really can be wonderful. Faith calls us to care for others; great works need to be done outside of our own needs.”
Both cradle Catholics, Leo and Betsy have seen personal faith play a huge role in their decision-making and outlook. “God has led us here. In my prayers for motherhood, I asked the intercession of Mary, the mother of us all. I think she has a special place in her heart for children who need mothers. In prayer, I ask her that I become a better mother and have her gentle heart,” says Betsy. Parish life is also imperative, she says, “As foster parents, we can’t do it alone, and our faith community has and continues to give us so much support, both emotionally and materially.”
Leo has been reflecting on two biblical women, Elizabeth and Hannah. “I think of how they asked for a child. When you adopt, you’re aware these children came to you not as your own, but really, even biological children are not truly your own. They are God’s children. Your end goal shouldn’t be about getting them through college or happily married, but rather to prepare to give them back to God. My Catholic faith and these two women help me understand that while my kids will always be my kids, they’re God’s kids first and I must foster this relationship before anything else I do for them.”
The journey of the last six-plus years, beginning with the emotional pain of infertility to the mystery of which child(ren) they’ll be called to care for, has taught them to fully trust God. It has confirmed the importance of prayer. Leo says, “Parenting is difficult and prayer is essential. You pray for wisdom. You pray for how to tell a child about their past in a way to help them heal and fairly understand their circumstances. As a parent, I am grateful reconciliation is available. I know I’m not going to do everything right simply because I am a parent. I didn’t go into this with an idealized view. The calling God gives to you demands a lot, but it also gives a lot in return.”
Those first foster children, sisters, have become Betsy and Leo’s permanent daughters through adoption. They have since welcomed another foster child into their home. With their first foster children, “things were pretty crazy. We had so much to learn, including the limits of our patience. We felt so overwhelmed. You have these little children you are suddenly caring for, accommodating their needs, and building trust with. With our current foster child, we’re more prepared, more experienced. We have simply added more joy.’
Foster parenting gives children the opportunity to develop to their full potential in a safe, caring environment. If you are interested in more information on adoption or on becoming a foster parent, contact your local Catholic Charities agency.